Life doesn’t mean well with me, mainly because I don’t mean well with life. I’ve been the second fiddle for close to all of it. Second choice. The man who only took the lead when no one else wanted to feel ready. But now there was no one for whom I was a substitute. It was just me and my needs. Nothing had changed.
I used to hang out in bars late in the afternoon and wasted my young life with the permanently seated unemployed and the arriving workers all around the city. Men who were avoiding their families or had none wanted to drink cheaply and just forget who they were for a while. No women sat in the bar; all only men over 30. Already said something about the state of the state – but probably was so since the beginning of civilization.
I sat down on the stool and ordered a round for all the lost souls. I’m a man of the people. The comrades asked for my name, spoke a high for “Nathaniel Schradinski” and my name was forgotten again before the glasses were put back on the table. It is like this probably everywhere
In the afternoons one met these broken souls in the bars and only they seemed to have something to say. They scolded me about the state, women, money, the rich, alimony, the stupidity of youth and the waste of potential. The whining filled the air and mixed with the smoke. I quickly got sick of it, I often sat down and drank alone at a table in the bar before the unfulfilled people came with their perfect lives. Especially when the women came, I was already gone. In the bars I preferred to stay among men and on the streets, I only followed the women. My last time was with a married woman who was dead because of it.
I knew Martina before my time between the skyscrapers and the neon lights when I was an impoverished suburban boy who had no right to grow up in this prosperous area. Martina was the first one who loved me. She paid her price for it. She crashed into a tree as she drove back to her husband. I provoked our quarrel, so she left me because I loved someone else who didn’t love me. I blame myself for her death. It wasn’t by far the worst thing I had done. Still, it was the only thing I seemed to blame myself for. Putting her accident on my cap didn’t make sense. But if I’d loved Martina instead of the other woman, she’d still be here. We’d all be happy. The psychiatrist called this feeling, to make it clear to me, a “proxy” for all the past from which my soul tries to distance itself. Did I mention that I was in a mental hospital?
I turned 24 and haven’t had sex in almost a year. There were worse cases than me out there, but the majority seemed deliciously amused and exchanged among themselves as if they were collectible stickers. Nothing wrong with it as I think, but my libido envied her youthful couple’s joyfulness. It sometimes overcame mountains, crossed rivers, left miles behind only to be stung. And sometimes just the right look and the confidence not to look away was enough to give you a hot night. They gave each other wet kisses as they went out, rubbed their bodies against each other, and when the alcohol level was high enough, they rubbed against poorly lit strangers. But to move and make place for someone else, I hated more than sitting alone in my room. Aversion from experience.
Because I didn’t stand a chance in the clubs. When I overcame this feeling, mostly nothing good jumped out of it for me anyway. The men in their stylish human suits were so much more handsome and fake than me, and some even had more behind their fists when I tried to explain it to them. Personality counts for nothing in the light of a stroboscope. There were no boring conversations under the drone of the eardrum crushing beats. It was about movement and appearance and, as always and everywhere, implied money. I liked dancing when I was drunk, but I didn’t have a sense of rhythm or the self-confidence to hide it. I was a bad dancer. I learned that years ago.
A young girl was pulling into a dance club under protest at the time when I was still selling weed with Ätz and I was sleeping on his couch. I tilted shoots, took her on the dance floor, she called me a metronome and took off for her apartment with the first candidate who had more to offer than just wiggling back and forth. As a young lad, you’re not told anything about the need for rhythm.
I drank the last drink of the evening on Tabea, even though I wondered why I was thinking of her right now. I didn’t resent her. There seemed to be nothing left but grief in me. It was nice to feel something different even if it was just nostalgia for personal misfortune.
I paid the bill. I went out on the street. I staggered down the avenue. In the autumn splendor I lost my eyes and for a moment I thought the city was beautiful. I threw up on the heap of leaves in front of one of the birches. I wiped my mouth off in the sleeves of my jacket. I threw up again. Not much further I found a newspaper. I tore out politics and wiped the last bits of spit and vomit out of my beard. I needed both double sides, the spit was stubbornly holding on.
While walking I read rest of the newspaper, when looking up the business sign of a watchmaker in the form of a cube told me the time. I could have looked at my smartphone, but I don’t like pulling it out. The uninhabited screen reminds me that I don’t have any friends.
It was 2:00 in the morning on a Saturday. On weekends, public transport runs all night. The subway station wasn’t far. A few people in a festive mood came towards me. The closer I got to the station, the more they got in numbers. A couple snogged in front of the entrance on the stairs. The guy pressed the girl against the stone. His hand he had wrapped around her neck and he squeezed lightly, and she stood there visibly, clawing her nails in the back of his head. The sight made me angry. I knew why. I looked down to escape the play.
The subway came in just as I was climbing the stairs. I heard them coming and doubled the number of steps I took with one step. People got off when I got to the top.
I looked out the window and the city was passing me by. I threw the hood of my jacket over and leaned my head with the fabric in between against the window. I was dizzy from the noise in my cerebral cortex. Behind my eyes, the salty liquid collected in the eye socket and because it wanted to get out, the flood of tears pressed the eyeball out. It was worse on the left side of my face. I was afraid to get to look myself in the eye. I closed my eyelids to prevent them bumping out.
The announcement spoke of the next station. The car stopped. The doors opened. I felt too miserable to look up. The doors closed. I yawned. A melody sounded – guitar playing and I assumed that only I heard it, but it came from the front of the car. It was lovely, but nothing fancy. Not unlike what was heard in many elevators for the wait.
I opened my eyes to see who dared to rob me of my peace. The guitar player had long hair, he tied in the back to a ponytail. His skin was tanned, his face reflected a friendly nature. Two emeralds looked out of his eye sockets. He wore a full beard and an inviting smile, a shirt with a yellow smiley on it, jeans with holes and a small box around his neck so that you could contribute to his livelihood while he made the instrument talk. It got on my nerves. I just wanted a quiet moment. No music.
The man walked down the wagon with his guitar. He stopped at each passenger once briefly to ask for money. The few people in the seats were as annoyed by him as I was. A young girl, barely 16 years old from afar, gave him a euro coin. He had stopped in front of her, hammered the strings until she felt sorry for him, had given in and taken pity on him. The guitarist nodded at her gratefully and made his way through the wagon. He walked past me, and before he walked past me, I stopped him.
“Hey, Hendrix” I said.
“Yes?” he asked and stopped in front of me, persistently continued his song.
“Can you stop or at least play something with substance?”
“I’m making a living with my buns”
“Then you’ll live off a bagel a day”
“People could be more generous if I played for them”
I had an idea.
“I’ll give you a fifty if you play a certain song for me”
I stood up and told him to come with me. We stood at the doors, where the pole was sticking out to hold on, so that we didn’t block the passage.
“What song shall I play for you, my friend?” he asked me again.
“I don’t know his name, but he’s quite well-known. If you give me your instrument, I’ll play a few tunes for you”
He agreed and pressed the modern wooden lute into my hand. I had my fingers stroke dover the natural gut strings. I struck notes of beautiful timbre, but not coherent ones. A play played by a layman. Where the audience was just waiting to replace you. I played around the head of the guitar. I spun the vortex-like I had any idea what I was doing.
The guitarist watched me. Carefully he dropped “ehm”´s and “wait” and I just ignored him until he finally asked what the hell I was doing.
“I’m looking for the right pitch for the subway,” I said and turned the whirl until the tension was off the strings. The guitarist reached for his instrument, but I pulled it away from him and turned my back to him. He couldn’t get his hands on her over my shoulders.
“Damn it, give me my guitar again”
The guitarist hit me in the lower back slightly above cymbal height. I drove lightly together. His next one was harder and hit me in the neck. I turned around and with the momentum, I hit the guitar against the bar. Wood splintered from the body and under the bridge I managed to make a second hole. In shock he watched me break his instrument in two with the second swing.
“What the hell?” the guitar player threw his fist at me. I dodged it, but I got caught in the shoulder. Whether it was because I was drunk, or the guitarist simply had no strength in his arms or he lacked the technique, I didn’t really feel the punch. But my pent-up anger was, what I could feel it.
I pulled the head of the guitar over him. I caught him with all my might. The base of his music above his eyes took it away. I hit him at the vertebrae, and he was falling on the ground. I threw the guitar at him. The juice stuck to his smiley shirt. Red in yellow. It looked like the laughing face was crying blood.
People jumped up in the car. Hurried to his rescue and my arrest. I was lucky: in the last moment, before the doors closed, I jumped through and got off at the station.
I threw the hood of my jacket over my head again and at the double, I hurried through the building onto the street. I walked to the next subway station on the same line. On the way, I went to a tiny grocery store for more beer. The salesman gave it to me in a plastic bag. At the platform, I waited for the subway and drank a can. At home, I closed the door and kept drinking. A coma-like condition haunted me.
The next morning, there was a knock on my door. In jeans and socks, I woke up on the floor. My T-shirt was hanging over the headboard of my bed. I held my skull and the knock got faster. I got up from the floor.
“A moment” I shouted and threw up in the bathroom sink. My guest was not patient. The pumping became more irregular and louder. I saw the cops through the spy. I opened the door for them.
“You uniforms are really fast. I really thought I had one more day”
The two cops didn’t look like they were in a joking mood. They handcuffed me and took me to the station.
My wrists hurt. The policeman hadn’t loosened her up after my second request. They threw me in here and I was there. Just there and lying there.
There? Where’d I go? I lived for 6 years with an interruption in this ugly city, full of rats and cockroaches and knew exactly zero more. I just became worse of a person. I was always just here and there. Where was here? I didn’t know. I didn’t know. A vermin stronghold hides beneath the asphalted roads. Would she really be too bad to burn down? God, just breath. They’re trying to get you down. That’s always the plan. When you’re little, you fit into their world. Stay small.
They had enough evidence. Video cameras inside the subway, video cameras in the station when I went to the toilet, probably also video cameras behind the bathroom mirror in my room. There were also several eyewitnesses, fingerprints on the guitar and blood that I lost due to scratches caused by swinging a giant splinter of wood. Explained the deep scratches on the leg. They showed me the burden of proof, so I let the excuses stay the same.
“Well, you got me” I said and burned the cigarette I asked for.
“You really haven’t been very careful, Mr. Schradinski”
“I’m at a disadvantage because I’m in the system, no?”
I laughed. What a joke. Nobody understood him but me.
“Remorse would be appropriate, Mr. Schradinski. The man needed stitches. He’ll have a scar on his forehead”
“Oh, that’s only good for him. He’s nothing but a beggar who found a guitar in aside street. Now he is a guy with a story of prejudices against his music. And anyway, I was just doing the community a service. Do you think anyone wanted to hear the beggar on his guitar banging around?”
I sounded like my father. I remembered when I was reluctantly released into freedom. I smiled when I thought about him, but more about that I thought about him than about anything else. After my father died, my memories of him were blurred. It took a certain mood to lure out buried impressions. An interesting woman who asked questions; the second bottle of whiskey torn over laughter; or just some weed and a wall I could stare at.
Of course, I was alienated from him while we were still living in the same house. I had to do that to protect myself from his punishments and expectations. He should have been close to me, but he didn’t. I had to isolate myself or I’d feel like I was dying of something missing. I helped him die. I’d never been this close to him before. With my sleeve I wiped the tear from my face. Why does the rest of my life always feel like breaks for such moments? I pulled myself together and out of my thoughts. Need satisfaction, that’s what I needed. I was thinking about getting something to eat.
I wasn’t afraid of the bill. As his first and last attempt at redemption, my father had bequeathed money to me. Not much. We never had much. I didn’t touch it until I needed it and I spent it as if I didn’t need it anymore. I still owned the property, too. Inclusive the ruin of my childhood home. I had hired an estate agent after my stay in the mental hospital. Interested parties had not yet found each other.
In itself, I didn’t care about the money, but it created a problem. My lawyer foresaw that a lot of compensation would be due because I had drunk but deliberately pulled the guitar over his head with enough evidence to not call it a conscious act. I didn’t have the money, so I asked him to delay payment until the property was sold. The singing beggar agreed. He surely rubbed his hands expectantly and contentedly when he heard about the sum.
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